BOSTON Every now and then, Avery Bradley finds himself resisting the urge to pinch himself when he thinks about where he was a year ago and where he is now.
Back then he was just another young guy in the NBA trying to find his way on to the court and play meaningful minutes.
Today, he's a starter for one of the most storied franchises in the NBA.
Several of his teammates have praised Bradley for the strides he has made in his overall game.
But the most important individual in recognizing his progress has been C's head coach Doc Rivers.
Rivers acknowledges being surprised at how much Bradley's all-around game has improved.
"I said last year what he was defensively. You could see that," Rivers said. "Offensively, he's definitely ahead. Defensively, I thought he was there last year."
Said Bradley: "It's been exciting, especially seeing my progression and now getting a chance."
And with his chance, the Celtics (31-24) are now seen as having a greater chance of making a deep playoff run in part because of Bradley's emergence.
Bradley isn't just starting, but he's starting ahead of a shoo-in Hall of Famer in Ray Allen who is still considered one of the NBA's top shooters.
Still, for Rivers, the impact that Bradley has made defensively with the first unit has been too important to not be in the starting lineup.
"Avery's going nowhere defensively," Rivers said. "He's going to be right there. Teams are going to start setting far more backcourt picks on him."
And those picks have already taken a toll on his body.
Bradley has been dealing with a left shoulder injury that's still bothersome, but not enough to where he anticipates missing any games. And the bevy of screens and picks that he has to fight through every game only makes it tougher to fully recover.
"The screens definitely don't help," Bradley said. "Every time I do a certain movement, it bothers me. But I'll be alright."
Bradley has come too far too quickly to allow a minor injury to have major impact on him making the most of his opportunity to play now.
As a rookie last year, remaining confident was not easy.
Fortunately for Bradley, he had several teammates -- among them Sasha Pavlovic -- constantly giving him tips on how to improve his game as well as keeping his spirits up when things weren't going his way.
The two go one-on-one before most games, home and on the road.
They have struck up the kind of friendship that, when Bradley rattles off all those who have helped him get to where he is now, Pavlovic is indeed on the list.
"Sasha has helped me out so much, always keeping my confidence up" Bradley said. "It used to be after games, I'd come to Sasha and say, 'How'd I do? What do I need to do?' Him and Keyon (Dooling), I always ask those guys and they used to tell me. It's something that we all help each other out with. That's why I love my teammates."
And while Bradley is used to being the one being encouraged, he finds himself now returning the favor to Pavlovic.
"Sometimes he might pass up a shot," Bradley said. "And we're like, 'Sasha, shoot the ball! We know you can shoot! Keep shooting it!' "
Bradley was among the Celtics excited with the play of Pavlovic in Boston's 86-72 win on Saturday, a game in which Pavlovic had eight points with most coming during a critical second quarter run that positioned the C's for the victory.
"Me and Sasha been like this since last year," Bradley said. "We hang out; we always help each other out. He's somebody that felt comfortable around me. We want to see each other succeed."
Bradley is indeed doing just that, which is somewhat surprising when you consider how far he has come from where he was a year ago this time.
He remembers vividly how uncomfortable and unsure he was about his game last year. He could see it on video of last year's games.
"Me being bringing the ball up court, how timid I was, everything. You could sense it, how nervous I was," Bradley said.
He has no plans of forgetting those times, because they serve as a reminder of where he's at now, and where he doesn't ever want to return to.
"That's what I try to do every game, take steps forwards and not take steps back," Bradley said.
Back then, Bradley admits his confidence wasn't where it needed to be.
That's not an issue now.
"Totally gone," Bradley said of his lack of confidence at times last year. "And that comes from my teammates, too; giving me confidence. Sometimes letting me know, 'You're good. You don't have to be nervous.' Kevin (Garnett) tells me stuff like that all the time. That's motivation hearing it from those guys."